Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A puzzle about property rights

Frank lives on a roughly triangular plot of land bordered on each side by a different neighbor: Joanna, Therese, and William. That is, his property is completely surrounded by the property of others. 

When he purchased this property, there was a well on the property. Through no fault of his own, nor through any actions of his neighbors, the water in the well has become undrinkable.

Because of some unchosen characteristic of Frank’s—his ethnicity, his sexual orientation, his nationality, … you may pick—his neighbors have taken a dislike to him. This dislike is so strong that they would just as lief that he be dead. However, his neighbors all respect his (negative) right to life as much as they respect property rights, absolutely. 

Thus, when Frank comes to them asking to buy water, they refuse to sell the water to him. No price that Frank is able to pay is a price that they are willing to take. There are more distant sellers willing to sell Frank water at a price agreeable to him, but they would have to cross the property of Joanna, Therese, or William to do so. And, none of these are willing to allow access at an agreeable price.

What may Frank justly do to rectify the situation and obtain water? And, why?